On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Gerald Groff, a former missionary and United States Postal Service employee, who refused to work on Sundays out of his Christian convictions. The case has the potential to completely upend a long–standing precedent and could have implications on religious liberty in the workplace.
Groff returned to Lancaster, Pennsylvania from the mission field in Nepal and other parts of Asia, and searched for a career that would not force him to work on Sunday. He selected a position at the Postal Service since employees historically were not expected to work on Sundays. However, when the agency signed a contract with Amazon to carry deliveries on the first day of the week, Groff was scheduled to work on Sundays and threatened with disciplinary action. Groff eventually left his position and filed suit against the Postal Service for violations of his First Amendment liberties.
The case, Groff v. DeJoy, is being presented by the First Liberty Institute and seeks to overturn a precedent established in a similar case, Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, in which the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only imposed a “de minimis” burden on employers seeking to accommodate religious workers rather than an “undue hardship” burden.
Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a statement three years ago asking for the decision in TWA v. Hardison to be reconsidered in the future. Justice Thurgood Marshall, who sat on the Supreme Court during the original 1977 ruling, wrote in a dissenting opinion that religious diversity was significantly eroded by the case.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Groff, it could set a precedent for workplace religious freedom. It could also force the Postal Service and other employers to offer more accommodations for religious workers.
“The hope is that not only does Gerald go back to that career potentially, but also that every employee doesn’t have to face that choice he had to face,” said Jeremy Dys, special counsel for First Liberty Institute. “That they don’t have to face that temptation of compromising their religious beliefs in order to maintain their career.”
The Supreme Court’s decision in Groff v. DeJoy could have a major impact on the way employers accommodate religious workers, and could open the door for more religious liberty in the workplace. We’ll find out the outcome when the Supreme Court issues its ruling in the coming months.